This final week of the Six Nations has ultimately decided where each team stands both in the table and more generally in the landscape of world rugby. So, what exactly happened in each season-defining encounter?
Super Saturday kicked off in Edinburgh’s glorious afternoon sunshine with Scotland facing Italy. A try from captain Luca Bigi five minutes into the game gave the visitors an early lead, but thereafter Italy had no answer for Scotland’s perfect balance power and flamboyance as the home side rained tries on the Italians, scoring from anywhere and everywhere.
The Caledonian onslaught began with tries for David Cherry, Duhan van der Merwe, and Darcy Graham, all on the back of pressure in Italy’s twenty-two. Scotland then sealed a first-half bonus point with a brilliant length-of-the-field team try which Huw Jones finished off.
Gregor Townsend’s side started the second half where they had left off, with Cherry quickly scoring his second. Two more tries soon followed through Scott Steele’s sniping and Sam Johnson’s muscle. Another end-to-end score, finished by van der Merwe, completed Scotland’s account on Saturday, bringing the final score to 52-10.
This defeat marked Italy’s sixth straight Six Nations wooden spoon. There is, however, still plenty of hope for this young Italian side, which has at times shown great attacking capability. Scotland, meanwhile, still awaited a trip to Paris before closing out their tournament.
The lack of fans has been a disappointing reality throughout this Six Nations. On Saturday though, Dublin felt especially robbed of supporters as St Patrick’s day weekend, CJ Stander’s farewell match, and a thrashing of England all converged, providing the ingredients for what would have been an electrifying atmosphere.
The rugby itself nevertheless yielded ample excitement, beginning with a clever Irish try 21 minutes into the game. Winger Keith Earls scythed through a small gap engineered by number eight Jack Conan, before wrong-footing Jonny May to score in the corner. Ireland bagged a second try before halftime as phases of attacking pressure disjointed England’s defence creating space for Conan to snipe round a ruck and open a 20-6 lead for the hosts.
In the second half, reckless English penalties allowed Johnny Sexton to stretch Ireland’s tally up to an insurmountable 32. Eddie Jones’ side offered two late tries in response, bringing the result to 32-18, a scoreline which flatters another lacklustre and ill-disciplined England performance.
The jobcentre now beckons for Jones, who has led the tournament’s best-resourced team to their worst-placed final standing as they sit at fifth in the table. Ireland on the other hand have salvaged their tournament, winning their last three games, and finishing third.
Wales were cruising towards a grand slam 58 minutes into their match in Paris. They had a ten-point lead, a man advantage and all the momentum. This seemingly unassailable control over the game, however, made Brice Dulin’s extra time, title-snatching try all the more heart-breaking for Wales.
The two sides were evenly matched during an exhilarating first half, which included four tries and plenty of eye-catching rugby. After the break, though, Wales began to pull ahead through Dan Biggar Penalties and a cleverly worked try for Josh Adams. France did not roll over. Rather, despite being down to 14 men, they rallied and turned the screw on Wales. Under the spotlight of relentless French pressure, Welsh discipline faltered resulting in yellow cards to Taulupe Faletau and Liam Williams.
French Captain Charles Ollivon made the best of the man advantage and crashed over the line in the 76th minute, reducing the deficit to just three points with as many minutes remaining. France, unlike Wales, kept their composure and faultlessly went through the phases until Dulin struck the most brutal of blows in the 81st minute, bringing the final score to an agonising 32-30.
The devastation for Wales was raw. Saturday’s result will continue to hurt, but Wayne Pivac’s side would do better to look at all the positives of their campaign. This tournament felt like a watershed moment for the Pivac era and hopefully, his side will continue to improve.
A tense Friday evening awaited Wales though as they closely followed Scotland’s trip to Paris, still in hope of a tournament victory. France also looked ahead to their encounter with Scotland, knowing a big win would earn them the title.
Wayne Barnes’ sharp blow of the final whistle on Friday night signalled three things: Wales were the Six Nations champions, France were not, and Scotland had won in Paris for the first time in 22 years. A high-quality game drew to a close in the 84th minute as van der Merwe slid over the line, taking the score to 23-27.
This tournament has demonstrated the remarkable improvement of Townsend’s team, even though the win only earned them an overall fourth-place finish. Scotland now boast several world-class players and the tactical nous to capitalise on this talent. Come next year, they will be real title contenders.
For the second year in a row, this young and exciting French team has been runners up in the Six Nations, despite being arguably the best side.
A touch more calm-headed game management to complement their flair and dynamism will see France become an unstoppable force in world rugby. In the meantime, though, the trophy heads to Cardiff.
Image: Katie Moore